Enrollment growth in Canada driven by International Students

A recent report from Statistics Canada examines student enrollment before the pandemic as a way to assess the impact of the coronavirus on students. To measure how enrollment and graduation have been affected, especially for international students, researchers have used the 2018/2019 academic year as a benchmark.

That year, more than 2.1 million students were enrolled in Canadian universities and colleges, up 1.8% from the 2017 academic term. This gain was entirely due to the enrollment of international students, which increased by 16.2%. That same year, domestic student enrollments fell by 0.5%.

Most of these registrations were informal programs, only 8.4% were in courses outside of a formal program such as continuing education or personal interests.

International student enrollments have more than tripled in a decade

Between the academic years 2008 and 2018, international student enrollment increased from 101,000 to over 318,000. Canadian student enrollment in formal programs increased by 10.9% over the same period.

This increased the proportion of international students in Canadian post-secondary institutions from 6.4% to 16.2% and represents 57.2% of the total growth in all program enrollments.

Universities more dependable on tuition fees

With the provincial government’s revenues declining, Canadian universities increasingly rely on student tuition fees as a source of income, according to a previous report from Statistics Canada. The share of income from tuition fees increased by 4.7% between 2013 and 2018.

In comparison to domestic students, international students pay higher tuition fees. With the rise in enrollment growth and tuition fees, international students contributed about 40% of all tuition fees or $ 4 billion at Canadian universities in the 2018 academic session.

STEM Enrollment Increases, Humanities Declines But Not For International Students

With the needs of the labor market, education systems have evolved. In the space of a decade, there were 24.2% more enrollments in mathematics, computer science, and information science. While these programs accounted for 5% of all registrations in 2018, growth in this area was the strongest over 10 years.

In the Canadian labor market, jobs associated with the digital economy grew by 37%, surpassing the growth rate of the total economy of 8.6% between 2010 and 2017.

Although the humanities accounted for 11% of enrollments in 2018, these programs saw the largest drop in enrollment. Over 10 years, the total number of students enrolled in these programs fell 19.4%. In the report by Statistics Canada, Graduates in the arts and humanities were more likely to be overqualified in their occupation than their peers.

There were differences in humanities enrollment rates when comparing international and domestic students. Enrollment in the humanities fell 25.2% for Canadian students but increased 106.1% for international students. The increase in international student enrollment may be attributable to initiatives to encourage them to study in Canada or to respond to labor market demands in their home country.

Growth of business, management, and public administration programs led by international students

In the program’s 10-year period leading up to 2018, International students drove the growth of enrollment in business, management, and public administration programs. The percentage of international students studying in these fields has increased by over 200%, while the enrollment of Canadian students only increased by about 7.7%.

Canadian students were more likely to work in health and related fields, with 15.2% of all Canadian registrations choosing these fields. Only 5.1% of all international students chose these fields in 2018.

Future Path 

While the long-term impact of COVID-19 on international students is not far off, Statistics Canada notes that their participation is important for many reasons.

“Not only does the tuition income of international students contribute to the sustainability of some courses and programs, but international students increase the social and cultural diversity of campuses,” the report reads.

International students also contribute to the local economy when studying in Canada and constitute a large pool of highly educated people who can become permanent residents and contribute to the workforce.

Almost one-third of international students who obtained a Canadian bachelor’s degree and nearly half of the international students who obtained a master’s degree became permanent residents within 10 years of obtaining their first study permit.

Statistics Canada is monitoring this data as it becomes available in a post-COVID world. They will provide insight into the impact of the pandemic on student enrollments and changes in fields of study.

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